Hebrews 1:5–14 . . .
“Why Christ Is Superior to Angels”
Last week's opening passage of chapter 1 ended with v. 4: "So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." In today's commentary, we'll see many of the ways the author of "Hebrews," making effective use of Old Testament Scriptures, documents how Jesus is superior to holy angels.
To the Hebrews in Jesus' day, angels were important, powerful agents of God. They were glorious beings, more glorious than men. Scriptures always represent angels as the most excellent of all creatures; we know of no being, but God himself, who is higher than angels.
Through angels God spoke of himself in the old times. The Jews believed that God's law was made evident and often presented to them directly by angels. When Jesus, the Son of God, came into this world as a human being, he became lower than angels for a short time. But God gave Jesus' name great honor when he raised him from death. Accordingly, Jesus is superior to angels who'd never become sons of God. They couldn't reveal God to us the way Jesus has done; neither could angels take away our sins and make us clean the way Jesus can do. God gave a better name to Jesus than he gave to angels because only Jesus is Father God's Son.
Chapter 1's first four verses convey one main thought: "God has spoken to us in his Son." Everything else hinges on the greatness of his Son whose superiority was previously compared to the prophets. Yet, he'd already inherited a better name: "Son," as in “You are my son” (v. 5). The author goes on to confirm that the Son is not only superior to the prophets and their revelations from God, he's better than the angels because Jesus is Father God's only Son.
Christ Is God’s Only Begotten Son (1:5)
In vv. 5–13, there's a string of seven Old Testament quotations that stress six different reasons Christ is superior to angels. We'll look closely at all six reasons and realize their relevance to the essence of this epistle. Starting with v. 5, the author of "Hebrews" begins this comparative effort.
Jesus, as a result of successfully completing the work that he came to earth to do, has inherited a name that's better than any other name. He's always had the name "Son of God." He's also been referred to as "Son of man," being the one who makes redemption possible for those sinners who confess their sinfulness, repent, then ask him to be their Lord. We'll now see, starting in v. 5, a series of Old Testament passages that document Christ's inherited name that is superior to angels.
5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”?
Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? (1:5)
It appears that the author was interested in proving the point he'd made in v. 4 that Christ is "superior" to angels. Today's text doesn't set new truths regarding Christ. As long-term believers, initial readers of this epistle were familiar with the history of God's Son. They agreed that many Old Testament passages, particularly those cited herein, refer to the Messiah, with Jesus being the Messiah. And finally, they accepted the events of this man's history, such as his death, resurrection, and ascension to God's right hand. The persons addressed weren't young converts needing to be instructed but were old disciples with a history of having many trials and needing exhortation and strengthening.
Following v. 4's "So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs," vv. 5 and 6 depict God addressing the Messiah by calling him Son, a name by which Father God had never called any angel. God has declared what he'll be to Christ Jesus: his Father (v. 5). Further, God will again bring in Jesus, the "first-born," that is, the Son-heir, into the inhabited world of men, establishing him into God's universal inheritance. The Scripture declares: "And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, 'Let all God’s angels worship him,''' thereby reinforcing the true relation of God's Son to angels; while presently concealed, v. 6 will make manifest such a unique relationship between Jesus and angels.
The fact that Christ is "superior to the angels" may not be relevant to us, but it was certainly an issue to the Jews of Jesus' day. For that matter, groups today (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses) continue to attempt to bring Christ down to an angelic level. Here in chapter 1, however, the truth that Jesus is vastly superior to any and all angels is illustrated to emphasize the fact that Jesus Christ created angels.
The author presents Old Testament Scriptures into this New testament letter to illustrate to the Jews the superiority of Christ, by using Scriptures they already knew. After all, if the Old Testament declares that Christ is superior to angels, then the Jews shouldn't have trouble believing that.
Taking a closer look at v. 5's, "For to which of the angels . . . my Son," God in the Scriptures calls the Messiah his Son; at no time has he given such a name to any angel. This fact alone denotes a position that is superior to the angels and every other created being. God also says, "today I have become your Father." The original Old Testament quotation for this phrase was taken from Psalm 2:7. So, when God says, "today I have become your Father," we see that he's fulfilled Scripture by revealing Jesus to the world as his Son. When he revealed Christ at Lord Jesus' baptism, it was limited to a small number of individuals present; when God revealed Jesus at his transfiguration, only a handful of people experienced that revelation; but at the resurrection, God declared Christ to all mankind, documenting the fact that Jesus Christ is the only begotten or born Son of God.
Verse 5's second Old Testament passage — "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son" — is taken from 2 Samuel 7:14, which again drives home the point that Christ is the Son of God. Although this verse had limited fulfillment during the reign of Solomon, it wasn't ultimately fulfilled until Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God, proving that he is superior to every man and every angel.
Angels Worship Christ Who’s the Firstborn (v. 6)
In v. 6, we find the second confirmation of Christ's superiority to angels, again using an Old testament Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:43) that reveals Christ as being superior to angels. The backdrop of this verse is Jesus' second coming, when God will bring the Messiah to earth again. He's already come to earth when Father God declared him to be his Son when he conquered death and was resurrected. Now, God says that when Christ triumphantly returns to earth, the angels will fall down and worship Him.
6And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (1:6).
The epistle's author again emphasizes Christ's humanity. God's angels are to eternally worship Christ as God. All of God's angels are compelled to worship Jesus — the Messiah — when He returns to earth a second time being mankind's King.
We see in Matthew's gospel a representation of the everlasting association that angels will continually have with Christ Jesus: "For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done" (Matthew 16:27). These angels will not only accompany him, they'll continually worship him.
We must put into context "firstborn." In English, the adjective "first-born" means the one who'd been born prior to others and, consequently, had lived longer than others. But the author had addressed this epistle to recipients having a Jewish point of view. In the Old Testament, a first-born son became the rightful heir of his father's estate; he'd receive twice as much inheritance as anyone else, plus additional blessings. Here in v. 6, the author referenced Jesus as the firstborn of this world, the heir of Father God. It's he, the "firstborn," whom all of God's angels must worship because he is superior to them!
Christ Sends Out the Angels to Serve as Winds and Flames (v. 7)
We next find proof that Christ is superior to angels in v.7 who are portrayed as servants.
7In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire” (1:7).
We might imagine the angels to which v. 7 refers as being unimportant, merely like winds or flames. But when we realize that the author has referenced Psalm 104:4 in this verse, it's important to see that the subject of Psalm 104 is "the greatness of God." In Psalm 104:1–10, we come upon a word-picture describing a "storm" comprised of winds, thunder, and lightening. It's as if God is riding on the wings of the wind (v. 3) and his voice resembles a noisy thunderstorm (v. 7) as he reaches across the skies (v. 2). People in Israel knew well about the consequences of terrible storms. The Scriptures highlight storms that cause boats to sink (Mark 4:37), whole houses to be destroyed (Matthew 7:27), and winds that break rocks apart (1 Kings 19:11).
But the wind that carries God must be greater and more driving than any of these (Job 37). And Isaiah was frightened by angels who appeared as flames in front of God’s throne (Isaiah 6:1–7) where "one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand" (v. 6). Note that "seraphim" means "angels of fire."
God’s angels aren't unimportant! They're greater and more powerful than anything we could imagine. His angels are like those winds that carry God's royal carriage. They're also like the flaming lamps in front of God's throne. God has endowed his holy angels with light and zeal, with activity and ability, and with readiness and resolution to do his pleasure. They're no more than what God has made them to be; servants of the Son as well as of the Father. But regardless of their amassed strength and divine capabilities, they're not as great as God’s Son, nor are they superior him.
The Righteous Ruler, Christ (vv. 8–9)
The Old Testament Scripture that the author adds to v. 8 is that of a royal wedding depicted in Psalm 45:6–7.
8But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy” (1:8–9).
Note that v. 8 begins with "But," which indicates a diversion or contrast from a previous mention. In v. 7, the angels who serve are the objects of that sentence. The "But" in v. 8 draws attention instead to Jesus, God's Son. Christ Jesus is identified with and by the name "God." Thus the deity of Christ is identified and emphasized.
Further, "Your throne" and "scepter of justice" denote the "rule and authority" rightly assigned to Jesus, who's also called God. His rule is completely righteous, void of lawlessness. Starting in the ancient world, kings sat on thrones and held scepters, which were ornamental staffs carried by rulers on ceremonial occasions as a symbol of authority.
Continuing to accentuate key Old Testament elements in the letter to the Hebrews, the author relates again to Ps. 45:6–7 in v. 9. Don't be confused when you read "therefore God, your God" in vv. 8–9. In v. 8, Christ gets referred to as God, while in v. 9, we're told that God has anointed Christ. How can Christ be God while also having a God? It's easy: Christ has two positions. The first position directs our attention to Jesus, being God in heaven, a position he's held eternally. We see Christ's second position being that of the human Messiah, wherein he lowered himself to man's level. Therefore, both positions make it possible for Christ to "be God," yet also "have a God."
Being the human Messiah, Christ has been set above his angelic companions, then anointed by his God with the oil of joy, thereby signifying Christ's position as Messiah. As kings were anointed when called to the throne, the phrase "anointing you with the oil of joy" means, "made King." In summation: Jesus is God; he has an eternal throne; he also has a unique relationship with Father God, being the One and only, first-born Son of God, the heir to God's kingdom, amen.
Christ Is the Unchanging Creator (vv. 10–12)
The fifth confirmation of Christ's superiority to angels in vv. 10–12 again includes Old Testament Scripture (Ps. 102:25–27) to communicate this message to Jewish readers.
10He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (1:10–12).
Herein the author emphasizes that Christ is the Creator. Being God, Jesus will never change. Because Jesus is the Creator of the earth, the heavens, and all that is within them (vv. 2 and 10), the author reminds us of this fact, to demonstrate Christ's superiority to angels who serve as messengers, by the fact that he created all of them. Although Jesus is the Creator, he remains separate from his creation. The author writes, "They will perish, but you remain." According to Psalm 102, Jesus isn't part of his creation; he's distinct from it. Unlike his creation, there will never be a time when Jesus Christ changes, ceases to exist, or stops being Messiah. All creation, however, can wear out and be changed, just like a "garment" that can be rolled up, just like a "robe." While creation isn't eternal, Christ is! "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (13:8).
Christ Sits at the Right Hand of Father God (vv. 13–14)
In vv. 13–14, this letter's author continues to emphasize the point of Christ's superiority to angels by again using relative Old Testament Scripture: Psalm 110:1. Incidentally, Jesus himself spoke of Psalm 110. In Mark 12:35–37, he referenced it to prove that Christ wasn't merely someone from David’s family. And Peter referenced it in Acts 2:34–36 to show that Jesus was the Christ.
13To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
14Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (1:13–14).
In these closing verses of Hebrews chapter 1, we see the final contrast between the place of the Son and that of angels in redemptive history. The author quoted Psalm 110:1 in a rhetorical question to his Jewish readers who'd have known that God never told any angel, "Sit at my right hand." Clearly, being at one's right hand became an esteemed position of authority, privilege, and responsibility. Such an awesome position would be given only to the One being "firstborn," the veritable "heir." Only Jesus held that position; the angels never received such a superior endowment.
Note the contrast that the author added in vv. 13–14. In v. 13, Christ sits at Father God's right hand, in the position of privilege and authority. What's the position of the ministering spirit angels? They're spirits not people; they've never lived in this world. They've appeared, yet they usually come here when God sends them to carry out his work on earth. God's angels are dignitaries who've been assigned an official function to carry out for God: "to serve those who will inherit salvation." With all stateliness and nobility, the angels are to serve everyone who'll inherit the valuable gift of eternal salvation.
"Inherit" emphasizes the future aspect of our salvation, the time and occasion when we'll fully realize Christ Jesus' promises to every believer who asks him to be their Lord. At the time of our inheritance, we'll receive a glorified body; we'll worship and glorify him continually; and we'll rule with him and reign with him. Thankfully, the angels will be with us, doing what's necessary on our behalf as loyal messengers, spirits, servants, and representatives of Father God.
The Son who sits at God's right hand till all things are put in domination under his feet is himself the end and aim of history; the angels are all servants, helping to forward God's ambitions and movements. It's important to note that the Greek diakonos in v. 14 was used to reference "ministering." When this verse says that angels are sent forth "to minister" for those who'll be heirs of salvation, diakonos clearly means that angels have a God-given assignment to "serve" believers with meticulous, detailed attention. Therefore, angels are God's supernatural servers who've been dispatched to attend to the needs, wants, and wishes of the saints.
So, who are we to worship and why? . . . We aren't to worship the "prophets" who God used to tell us his message. We aren't to worship the "angels" who God had sent to serve us. We can't worship the "creation" because we know that it all perishes. Therefore, we're to worship only Jesus Christ who, alone, is worthy of our worship, allegiance, trust, and faith. Jesus is superior to prophets, angels, and all creation.
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— Listen to chapter 1, narrated by Max McLean.